Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Genealogy Lesson 3 - Relative Interview Questions

By now you should have made a decision on your method of record processing, manual or computer-based.  I tend to refer to computer-based systems when I write.  That is my personal preference so I am somewhat biased toward the format.  I have been using Family Tree Maker for probably twelve years now and would not trade it for the world.
At this point, you are ready to begin interviewing your relatives.  This might sound like a formal process but it is quite simple.  You can begin with yourself and what you know concerning your parents, grandparents, etc.  Always ask the top eleven questions that a genealogist needs answered:
  1. Full maiden name of each person
  2. Date and location of birth
  3. Name of parents and grandparents
  4. Name of spouse(s)
  5. Date and location of marriage(s)
  6. Date and location of spouse(s) birth
  7. Names of their children
  8. Date and location of death
  9. Date and location of death for spouse(s)
  10. Burial location(s)
  11. Do you have any old family photos?
Let's say that you interview your grandmother.  If you ask her these questions for herself, her husband, their children, her parents, his parents, their aunts and uncles, her grandparents, his grandparents, etc., she may not have all of the answers but you will have a great start none-the-less!  (As a side note, you might also ask how the person knew all of the information they help decide how reliable the information might really be!) 
Memories fade but people generally know what they are talking about.  Record everything that you are told because something off the wall now might make sense later.  I always recommend using a tape recorder if the person being interviewed will allow it...but always get their permission first.  I use a hand-held digital voice recorder because it is compact, simple to operate and I can save the files directly to my computer. 
A sub-focus of the genealogy interview is to document old family stories.  This recommended outline of questions can  precipitate related questions such as "how did you two meet" or "what kind of wedding ceremony did you have?"  Let the conversation go where it wants but always come back to the eleven questions at some point.  If you manage to cover all of these topics, your interviews should flow well and be a genealogical success.
I have audio tapes of my now-deceased grandmother that I made twenty years ago.  Every time I listen to them, I learn more about the family because I had just let her talk and tell the story that she wanted told.  I kept things orderly during the interview but let the stories flow between the specific answers.  These tapes are now family heirlooms that can be passed on to my children and grandchildren.
You can make your own heirlooms by repeating this interview process with all of the living members of your family, at least those who are willing.  A lot of people, especially if they have a skeleton in their closet, will be reluctant to give you personal information.  If that is the case, leave them alone and go on to the next person.  You would not want your "dirt" recorded for posterity either.
After each interview, go home and enter all of the information you have discovered into your record keeping system.  Before long, you will begin to see your family tree take shape.  Each interview will add branches to the tree.  Just be sure to enter the data while the information you just absorbed is still clear in your mind.
It might take awhile to collect but this personal view of your family history will prove priceless in years to me.

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